SRU inaugurates Behre as 17th president


President Behre at the podium

Nov. 9, 2018

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - In a ceremony tinged with humor, emotional poignancy and challenges to the University community, William Behre was installed today as Slippery Rock University's 17th president.

Using the metaphor of steel being an alloy constructed of different elements that determine the final product, Behre talked about the institution's need to challenge itself to determine if it has the elements to make it strong, durable and versatile enough to suit many needs.

Inauguration seal

He noted that that while many of SRU's successes exceed state and national outcomes, to truly be great, it had to peel away the top layers and asks it itself difficult questions. "We must ask ourselves if we are doing enough to support all of our students, if our curriculum is designed and offered in a fashion that best meets student needs, and if we are successfully serving non-traditional and students with disabilities as well as we should," he said.

Behre drew applause when he pledged to work to improve the campus' diversity. "College is about opportunity. I firmly believe that we cannot achieve our greatest strength without leveraging the experiences and perspectives of the broadest possible diversity of students, faculty and staff.

"We must give our students the opportunity to expand their worldview. This includes increasing options to study abroad. And, it includes increasing the potential for students from western Pennsylvania to learn and collaborate with students who come from far abroad and who see the world a little differently than they do.

"Just as steel draws its physical strength from blending multiple metals, we draw our intellectual strength by drawing from multiple perspectives. To address this need, we will widen our admissions net and increase the diversity of voices on our campus.

"This is challenging work, but we must succeed," he said.

Behre spoke passionately about the important role the University must play in helping temper the national level of "uncivil" behavior. "Our national dialogue is currently overheated by hyperbole, demagoguery and scapegoating. It's a culture of sound bites," he said.

The University must provide leadership to address this fracture, Behre said. "We must add nuance to the conversations. We must underscore in our classrooms, research and commentary that the complex problems facing our nation necessitate complex responses. Formulating these responses requires more than a passing understanding of the issues at hand. Wherever possible, we must replace the 30 second sound bite with long-form discussion."

Behre spoke about the University's mission as an agent of social mobility and the long tradition, dating back to the Civil War and the Morrell Act establishing land grant universities as places of higher education for the masses.

"We have a proud legacy of providing opportunity for those who might not otherwise have one. We assure that 'have-nots,' have the opportunity to become 'haves,'" he noted. "Still we must do more."

To that end, Behre announced the University had committed an additional $800,000 in financial aid for underrepresented students.

Behre also addressed SRU's long-history of public service and the need to continue to instill in young people a commitment to serving the public good. To that end, Behre announced that he and his wife, Leah Ingram, were endowing the SRU Service Leadership Award for students that have demonstrated a commitment to public service in high school and were committed to continuing public service throughout their college career.

Several individuals representing students, faculty, staff, the administration, Slippery Rock Borough, colleague presidents, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education board of governors and the SRU council of trustees brought greetings on behalf of their constituent groups.

Ben Shavitz, president of the faculty union, spoke about the strength of the University faculty, pledging "we're ready to help you to be a great president of a great University."

Dallas Kline, president of the Student Government Association, spoke about Behre's commitment to putting student first and the students' support for helping improve the University.

Cynthia Shapira, chair of the board of governors, told Behre, "the Board and I are very proud of this university's faculty, staff, and alumni--all of whom exemplify excellence in their careers, in their communities and throughout the world.

"With you at the helm, we are confident Slippery Rock University will thrive and will build upon its strong foundation, continuing to develop innovative programs that meet the evolving needs of students and employers in the region and across the Commonwealth."

Slippery Rock Mayor Jondavid Longo issued a proclamation declaring Nov. 9 as "William J. Behre Inaugural Day in the Borough."

Behre was formally installed in office by Shapira, and Daniel Greenstein, chancellor of the State System. Jeff Smith, chair of the SRU council of trustees, and Armand Policicchio, associate professor of interdisciplinary studies and University grand marshal, presented Behre with the presidential medallion and mace.

Joseph Marbach, president of Georgian Court University, formally presented Behre for his investiture. Marbach, the ninth president of Georgian Court, located in Lakewood, New Jersey, worked alongside Behre for four years. "In Bill Behre you're not only getting a seasoned, outstanding professional, but also a good person. A person dedicated to putting student's first. A person who is passionate about his work. One thing I learned when working with Bill is to never schedule a meeting at 4 p.m. if you needed to be somewhere at 5 p.m., because he's just brimming with ideas and enthusiasm," Marbach said.

Behre closed his speech just as he opened it, by thanking those who had helped him to succeed for their support and encouragement and talking about how honored by the trust that had been placed in him. He pledged to be a president whose leadership reflects the University's hopes, respects its history and who always put students first. Then, in acknowledgment that success is the result of collaborative efforts, he invited all stakeholders to work together to forge the University future.

Prior to joining SRU, Behre, who was selected to lead the nearly 9,000-student University following a nationwide search and assumed his presidential duties July 1, was provost at Georgian Court University for four years. He has nearly a quarter century of experience in higher education as an educator, researcher, faculty leader and administrator.

Behre has a bachelor's degree in economics from Vassar College; a master's degree in education from Hunter College of the City University of New York; and a Ph.D. in education with a focus on special education policy from the University of Michigan.